Monday, March 5, 2018

A little self-puffery, from a robot no less

Truly, I appreciate all my SQD readers, small and select group that you are. But the following may well be the highest critical praise my writing has received…in quite a while.(And from a dirtbag, no less. We take what we can.) Someone at Roomba sent this to my rather remarkable niece, Eliza:

Your aunt is truly very talented and we look forward to seeing more of her work in the future. Perhaps she should write a book with poetry or even short stories? We think more people should see this and witness her amazing writing skills.

I am not sure where Alenda at Roomba got the idea that I have poetic talent. Maybe she was thinking of poetic license?

Response By Email (Alenda J.) (03/04/2018 12:54 PM EST)
Hi Eliza!

Thank you for sending us with this glorious piece which was written by your aunt Eliza!
It was an absolute pleasure reading this and we think that she has a real talent in poetry.

Being a Roomba owner myself, I've also had many ways I wanted to describe my Seth to my interested neighbors and friends but I was never able to find words that can be used to describe the beauty of Roomba. Your aunt was able to write how I felt about Seth with just a few keystrokes and for that, we thank her.

There were a few parts that were especially very interesting such as "When Roomba first arrived, I decided to name it. In our never-ending effort to be politically correct - why should house cleaners always be female?" This is precisely why I decided to name Roomba with a masculinity just for the sake of equality!

We also loved reading this; "I already have a vacuum cleaner, an Electrolux that is generally considered to be a first-class vacuum. But my vacuum requires a human being to push it around the house. Roomba requires only that he is recharged. And his dirt bag emptied."
Eliza, this is exactly how we want our customers to feel about our robots. We want them to feel at ease and relaxed while Roomba does all the work needed to keep a home very comfortable.

Your aunt is truly very talented and we look forward to seeing more of her work in the future. Perhaps she should write a book with poetry or even short stories? We think more people should see this and witness her amazing writing skills.

Again we do thank you for the opportunity to read this lovely piece and we wish you and your aunt all the best!

Additionally, we would like to know if you own a Roomba or if your aunt's Roomba is registered with us. Please let us know by responding to this email or calling us at 1 (877) 855-8593. We are available Monday through Friday from 9am to 9pm, and then Saturday & Sundayfrom 9am to 6pm (EST).

Warmest Wishes,
Alenda J.
iRobot Customer Support

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Dodging Bites and Branches

This came from the Hastings police 3 days ago:
Hastings-on-Hudson Police Department: currently tracking a wild coyote that maybe rabid and attacked two people and their dogs this evening. Please Stay out of all wooded areas in particular Hillside Woods.

The next day this came:
The Hastings-on-Hudson Police Department is currently tracking a wild coyote that maybe rabid and attacked two people and their dogs this evening. One incident occurred on Kent Ave. The second occured in Hillside Woods. The injured parties were taken to the hospital.

And for a change in what to worry about:

But we haven't forgotten the coyotes:
Message from the Mayor: Coyote attacks in Village
Last night, between 6:30 and 8:00PM, three people were attacked and bitten by a coyote and a small dog was killed. Two of these attacks occurred on Kent and on Overlook, and one in Clarewood Village. All attacks occurred on the street. The three victims have been treated at hospital and released. The animal also charged a number of other residents (and, in several cases, their pet dogs) though did not inflict any injury. The coyote has not been located and destroyed. It was last seen running toward Hillside Woods.

Hastings-on-Hudson Police Department: Coyote Information & Safety Tips
On February 28, 2018 at approximately 3:50 PM the Village of Hastings on Hudson Police Department received a call from a resident who reported being involved in an auto accident with a coyote on Broadway near Burnside Drive. Patrols were detailed along with the Greenburgh Animal Warden. It was determined the coyote suffered fatal wounds. The animal was transported by the Greenburgh Animal Patrol to the Westchester County Health Department for testing.

How many coyotes were there? Are they all dead now? At least one is still at large, licking its chops in anticipation of munching a lapdog.

Tristram was bitten by a rabid dog on his honeymoon, at a Temple outside Hanoi. He got a series of rabies shots, in Vietnam and back in the US, and hasn't thought about it since. (Unlike his mother.)

One small dog was killed, and at least 4 people have been attacked. I am pretty sure the dead deer I saw on the Aqueduct on Tuesday was killed by a coyote. I didn't think about it at at the time, which doesn't say much for my powers of deduction.

One coyote was captured and killed on Dunwoodie Golf Course. It was a scratch golfer.

Yesterday afternoon my mother's caregiver, Ava, called me from the Red House. I don't want to say she was hysterical. She was in a tizzy. Ava is somewhat zoophobic. Insects freak her out. When we set mousetraps in Mom's house, one of us has to go check on it early in the morning, before Ava can even see it. So it follows logically that Ava would be rendered quasi-hysterical by the coyote alert in our village.

The local police had knocked on the Red House door and told Ava and Mom to stay inside, because the coyote had been spotted in our backyard. I reassured Ava that coyotes cannot open doors, so that as long as they stayed inside, all would be well. I read in the paper this morning that a few minutes after that call, a car killed a coyote across the street on Broadway and Burnside, saving the sharpshooters from Albany the trouble. I never saw the police, or the coyote. Not this time.

I thought the coyotes were going to be the scariest thing to contend with today. And the most troublesome thing to contend with would be the leak in the bathroom ceiling. The ceiling leaks whenever there is heavy rain, and today there was heavy rain, and so much else. Then the sink upstairs started leaking, or just oozing water onto the floor. And since the stand is encased in porcelain, I cannot turn off the water valves, which I am capable of doing when such things are accessible. At the same time, the toilet in the powder room next to the kitchen started leaking, but CSB was able to shut of the water valve.
Coyotes were looking like a minor blip in the day. The chickens were safely locked inside. And as I told Ava, coyotes cannot turn door knobs.

The wind keeps blowing. In the kitchen the wind generates a high pitched squeal that has something to do with the weather vane atop the cupola. Upstairs the wind sounds like whistling, particularly like the whistling of someone with a missing front tooth.

I had an appointment this morning with the water company meter reader. For many months they have been sending my mother (me) estimated bills because no one was reading the meter. The Suez service guy arrived. Ava wouldn't let him wait in the house, so he sat in his truck and I walked over to meet him. He drove down the driveway and I walked through the trees to the far northeast corner, where the property abuts our neighbor's property and Broadway. I noticed that the new owners of the Forge Cottage had installed a large wooden compost pile on our property, on our side of the fence. That seemed odd. I was thinking about how to address this issue, in a neighborly way. I haven't even met these new neighbors, and I didn't want the first thing I said to them to be: Please put your compost onto your side of the fence. And welcome to the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the water meter was right where CSB said it was. Then the young man headed back to his truck to get his tools, and I was still in the wooded area checking out the snow drops when there was ominous cracking, and then more ominous cracking and then an enormous limb came down, snapping off more limbs on its way down. I started running away from the falling tree, when I heard more and louder cracking, and an even bigger tree came down. I kept running to get out of the trees. The meter guy quickly departed, leaned out the window of his van and said they would call to make another appointment.

In the grand Darwinian tradition of idiots going for walks in swampy woods during a wind storm, I was almost flattened by a tree.

Afterward,I stopped in to see Mom and Ava (still all agog about the coyote). I did not mention the near miss by the descending tree.Going home I kep far away from any trees.

Just a few minutes ago I was having yogurt and berries in the dining room (the kitchen table can't go back until tomorrow) when I heard another loud crack and watched as the biggest of the birch trees went crashing down. Away from the house. That is two trees I've dodged today. I am feeling superstitious.

The birch is iconic to this house and this property. Something inside my head cracked with it.

PS: This was written yesterday, but I I couldn't post it as we had no internet. We still don't. I am getting creative.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

All stamps, all the time

It doesn’t happen often that CSB suggests a blog topic. How about never? However he has frequently pointed out subjects that he thinks do not warrant attention on SQD. Anything hagiographic. I would like to point out that many months if not years have passed since I have alluded to any saints, martyrs, or medieval mystics on these (imaginary, cyber) pages.

But CSB just suggested that I write about the stamps. The very many stamps. Back at the Orchard, my sister and I always knew that my mother had a large stash of stamps in her desk drawers. We had no idea of just how large.

Let’s have some context: Stamp collecting used to be a very respectable pastime. Lots of people collected stamps, traded stamps, and pasted stamps into albums. People acquired stamps from shops, from post offices, and from letters, back when the sending and receiving of letters was considered normal. Bon Papa, who traveled everywhere and loved geography, collected stamps from the countries he lived in, specifically Egypt and Indochina. As a child, whenever I visited my father’s office on Essex Street in Boston, I was allowed to roam free in the sample room and snip foreign stamps from the hundreds of samples of cotton linters and combers that were sent in brown paper from all over the world. In my memory, the sample room is the size of a coffee beneficio, and dimly lit; there are rows upon rows of wooden shelves and the samples are stacked on the shelves from floor to ceiling. I am guessing that my spatial memory is affected by my relative puniness at the time. I would bring my treasures home, soak them in water, and then, using special tweezers, put them in my stamp album. I was a strange and geeky child, but this was not the strangest thing I did. My collection skewed heavily toward cotton-growing countries: Turkey, Pakistan, Ethiopia India, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Mexico.

No one knows if my mother collected stamps herself, back when. Now we will never know. But we have figured out that sometime in the 1970’s, or maybe earlier, she started buying US commemorative stamps. Lots of them. Whenever a new stamp was issued, she bought a sheet, or three, or ten if she found it appealing. My mother was an excellent correspondent. She famously sent out 350 Christmas cards every year, and wrote letters constantly. Even so, she could not use up her supply of stamps, and over the years, the stamps piled up.

I don’t know what CSB found more bizarre: my mother’s remarkable hoard of stamps, or the fact that I spent Saturday morning calculating the face value of all her stamps. (It wasn’t that hard. Most sheets have 20 stamps and even I can multiply single and double- digit numbers by 20. I also have a calculator app on my phone.) The total was $1001.68. That is not an insignificant amount.

The truth is that I enjoyed sorting through the stamps, witnessing what the postal service has deemed worthy of commemoration over the years. There were of course stamps honoring presidents, athletes, artists, cowboys, and scientists. Every Olympics got its own set of stamps. Flowers, flora and fauna, cuddly mammals, and American history get lots of attention. One of my favorite honorees was Dr. George Papanicolaou: he invented the eponymous Pap smear. Alas, the stamp does not show my show my least favorite medical device: the icy cold speculum. (The vaginal speculum we all know and love was invented Dr. Marion Sims, the so-called founder of modern gynecology, about whom the less said the better. He may have statues, but he does not appear on any stamps.)
Some old-time commemoratives, like these for “World Peace Through Law” (10¢, 1974) and “Energy and Conservation”(13¢, 1975), seem archaic,and innocently hopeful in our present political climate. Would a Trump-led Postal Service dare to extol "World Peace Through Law"? Must we prepare ourselves for a stamp suggesting "World Peace through Nuclear Armaments"? Or praising "Clean Coal"?
Some are just self-serving, honoring either the Postal Service itself, or extolling stamp collecting. Is a stamp featuring Stamp Collecting considered a meta -stamp?

So what do we do with them? More than half of the stamps, in denominations ranging from 6¢ to 39¢, require licking. Do we even know how to lick a stamp anymore? Who can conjure up that redolent taste of postage glue, sort of sweet and sort of toxic?

In the usual way of research, I looked on line to find out if there is a resale market for stamps. There is, after a fashion. There are a few sites that will buy unused stamps, at a deep discount: %50 of face value for complete sheets under 49¢, %40 for partial sheets. All of my mother’s stamps have a face value of less than 49¢, and remarkably few of the sheets are “complete and undamaged”. In other words, my face value calculation is somewhat meaningless.
The only way to get our ‘money’s worth’ from these stamps, is to actually use them for postage.

Let me know if you want me to send you a postcard. (My mother also has hundreds of postcards.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Olympic torch, reimagined

It was a fairly ordinary Sunday morning. CSB took Mom to church while the household's resident heathen lolled by the fire and did the crossword. He brought Mom back here with him, and she happily ensconced herself in the red velvet overstuffed wing chair by the fireplace. She went through the motions of reading a newspaper. Regarding a photograph on the front page of the opening ceremonies for the Olympics, she questioned, "Why are they all wearing the same hats?"
She asked several times what the date was and then checked what I said with the date printed on the newspaper.

Then she tipped over the ottoman where she had been resting her feet and began counting the bees on the fabric. It is a lovely pink Scalamandré silk with gold bees patterned across it, quite Napoleonic.

Mom said, "But it's been nice, I've been in here, I've been in there, I've been on the other side."
I said, "The other side of what?"
Mom said, "Of what I was involved before."

Then it was time to pick up my brother and his wife at the train station. It was pouring rain and I didn't want them to get soaked. I banked the fire and put the screen in front, and said, "Mom, I'm going to pick up Carl and Sandra. Carl, your son, and his wife, Sandra. That is: Carl, your son, and his wife, Sandra."
She said, "Well we just had them a matter of a week and maybe a bit more and what happened to them. Nothing happened to them. They just all hung around. He just appeared and he was really nice." (I think this means she thinks fondly of Carl, whoever he is.)
"Okay," I said, "Just don't touch the fire. I'll be right back. Chucker is just in the kitchen."

I drove the .6 miles down the train station, picked up my brother and sister-in-law, and returned. We emerged from the car and my brother note the pleasant scent of a wood burning fire. Did I notice that the scent was stronger than it should have been? I wish I could say I did.
CSB met us at the door, looking somewhat startled. A minute after I had left for the station, he had come into the living room to check on Mom, and through the large front window he saw my mother standing on the front porch waving a blazing Olympic torch. In fact, it was the fireplace broom, and the straw was flaming. My guess is that she thought she could put it out that way. But I can only guess, and I certainly cannot ask her. She was sitting comfortably in the red wing chair when we walked in, unfazed.

So, one scorched broom, and the house still stands.

A day like many others. A day like no other. I have to admit, I am annoyed that CSB did not take a photo of my mother with the torching broom before he actually put out the fire. Also grateful.

Friday, February 2, 2018

My Love Affair with Roomba

I don't how to say this any other way: I think I have fallen in love with Roomba. CSB tells me I am simply infatuated and that the glamour will fade and soon Roomba will spend lonely days in a closet gathering the same dust he now so diligently gathers.
I disagree. I remind CSB that I have fallen in love before, and I remain so. Why should my enchantment with Roomba ever fade?

Roomba, as the world knows, is a robotic vacuum. But Roomba is so much more. Roomba scoots around the house brushing the floor and sucking up dirt. Roomba has cliff sensors, floor tracking sensors, debris extractors, a Dirt Detect Indicator, a side brush, a dust bin and so much more.

When Roomba first arrived, I decided to name it. In our never-ending effort to be politically correct - why should house cleaners always be female? - we named him Aloysius. Now I wonder if there may have been a deeper reason for giving Roomba a masculine identity. Maybe, deep down, I realized I was going to become attached to Roomba, very attached, and very fond. And I am someone who is very fond of men, or a few good men.

It was all so serendipitous! To think that had I not gone down a certain aisle in Costco, an aisle that I normally do not go down and I only did on that day because I was looking for ink cartridges for my printer (they were out of the right kind), I would never have found Roomba. There it was on the bottom shelf of aisle three, beckoning, and I put one in my shopping cart. A classic case of impulse buying.

I already have a vacuum cleaner, an Electrolux that is generally considered to be a first-class vacuum. But my vacuum requires a human being to push it around the house. Roomba requires only that he is recharged. And his dirt bag emptied.

Aloysius scoots along the floor, wood floors and carpets equally smoothly, and gathers into his belly the detritus of our lives: dust motes, feathers, lint, pine needles, dog hair even though the dog has been dead for months, pencil shavings, more pine needles, wood chips, Cheerios, and so much more that is unidentifiable, but generally grey and fluffy.
Aloysius has never yet returned to his dock without a load of grey and fluffy stuff. I have to ask: does my house have an infinite supply, an ever-renewing supply, of dust, dirt, lint, pine needles and chicken bedding? Or will there come a time when Aloysius travels the length and breadth of the floors and gathers nary a mote?

Daisy and Bruno, and then only Bruno, used to keep me company in the house. With the dogs, there was always another breathing presence, a companion and a witness to my indolence and obsessiveness. When Bruno died last year, I was bereft. And left alone. It is unclear whether we will get another dog or dogs. Actually, all that is required is for CSB to succumb to my persuasive entreaties. But now I have Aloysius. He wanders around the house, as Bruno did. He can get under beds and sofas, as only Bruno could. Bruno left a trail of dirt and dog hair behind him, while Aloysius sucks up dirt and hair.

I know that I can program Roomba to vacuum while I am out, but aside from the fact that I have never been adept at programming devices (viz. DVR, VCR, crockpot), it would feel like abandonment to leave Roomba suctioning away while I was elsewhere. When I am here I can silently cheer him on, and of course, I can get him out of predicaments. I can untangle the shoelaces that are wound around his debris extractors, and I can extract him from a too-tight place, or I can remove the fire screen that has fallen atop him and is now being carried on Aloysius' back, like a fallen branch atop a turtle.

Like the dogs, Roomba does not judge me or make demands. And nothing in my life collects so much detritus.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Gloves in the Afternoon

I realize it is the last day of the year, an appropriate time for enumerating the many horrors of the past year: the insults to cordial discourse, the natural disasters, the national embarrassment, and the undoing of so much.

Let the lamentations go elsewhere. Here, I am just going to tell a story of Gloves in the Afternoon.
It was a rainy, dreary afternoon with #1 grandchild, and we happened upon the gloves.

We are all well-acquainted with the trope for more refined times: back when women wore gloves. Mostly white gloves.
I have mixed feelings about gloves. I tend to get cold fingers, and so I do like gloves for keeping my fingers warm. However, the most elegant gloves don’t keep your fingers all that warm. Fuzzy mittens are much better for insulating the digits.

But it was the stash of gloves that entertained us all afternoon. Both my grandmothers wore gloves, also my Aunt Madeleine, gloves for all occasions. They kept their gloves, neatly folded, in tissue paper, in special boxes designed for glove storage. As they died, sequentially, my mother kept their gloves, still neatly laid out in tissue paper, in special boxes. When my mother finally moved out of the Orchard a couple of years ago, we found dozens and dozens of pairs of beautiful gloves: soft leather, silk, satin, lace, softer leather, embroidered, and painted. We had no idea what to do with them. Aside from being very old and delicate and not designed for gardening, they are also quite small. How is it that our grandmothers and great aunt had small delicate hands, and I have arthritic indelicate hands? How did they keep their hands so small and delicate, while mine have grown lumpy and askew? That is something I don’t think about very often, but most likely too often.

Leda had no qualms, no hesitations, no mixed feelings about these gloves. She loved them without reserve. Each pair of gloves she put on – and yes, she has long slender fingers; she is also 11 years old – was transformative. She gestured with her hands like a dancer. She tilted her neck and rested her head upon a hand clad in ivory kidskin. She held her hands outward as if to be kissed or simply admired. Each pair of gloves called for a different situation or festivity. Pale beige leather ones would be perfect for driving along the Corniche in southern France. For waving farewells from the deck of your ocean liner as you steam out of port: white ones with embroidered flowers. The long black gloves would be just right for a champagne toast on a mountain top. The ivory crochet gloves were clearly meant for royal garden parties. So when Leda tried on the black gloves with lace cuff, and waved them around suggesting curlicues in the air, and announced, “I can wear these to my great-grandmother’s funeral,” I could only admire her sense of decorum.
At a young age, she understands that certain clothes can only be worn at certain times, and also that wearing the right clothes can give the wearer consolation, a mantle against grief. Is it possible that Leda knows of, or has intuited, my mother’s lifelong insistence on wearing all black, including undergarments and jewelry, to all funerals? Even in New England where such things are considered over-dramatic and more suitable for tropical, immoderate countries? Was it possible that Leda was present when I had to dissuade my mother from wearing a black mantilla to my ex-husband’s funeral, in a Unitarian church, a profoundly New England venue?

My mother was heading for the door when I saw the black lace atop her head. “Mom! You cannot wear a black mantilla. We’re going to a Unitarian church for Christ’s sake.”
“I don’t see why that should affect what I wear. Jackie Kennedy wore one.”
“She was the widow, Mom. You’re not the widow. You’re not the First Lady. There are so many good reasons not to wear a black mantilla I don’t know where to start.”
“I think it would look very nice. It’s Belgian lace.”
I begged. “Then just for me, please. Do not wear the black mantilla, please. It’s not appropriate. It is actually super-inappropriate. He was your ex-son-in-law. I can promise you that his own mother will not wear a black mantilla. She will not even wear all black. She’s a WASP. If anyone wears a black mantilla, it should be me.”
“Would you like to borrow it?” she said.

For Leda to wear black silk gloves, with a lace cuff, to her great-grandmother’s funeral (still in the unknown future) would be entirely appropriate. It would be an act of love.

Happy New Year. May you always have the right gloves for the occasion, in 2018 and beyond.

This is not a glove.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Saved by Books

There are few things in life I enjoy more than fondling books, dusting books, taking books off the shelf, and then re-shelving them in alphabetical order. This needs to be done every few years, on account of new acquisitions, de-accessioning, and the inevitable march of disorder that attacks the bookshelves while I sleep. I welcome the occasion.

Things have been difficult of late. How many times in an afternoon can you explain to your mother what the word T-O-N-S-U-R-E means? She was sitting in her favorite chair, that was previously your father’s favorite chair, by the fireplace, reading a large picture book about The Ghent Altarpiece.
Several years ago my sister and I went to Belgium with our parents, in January. Aside from the fact that the weather is wretched and it gets dark at 2 in the afternoon, everything you want to see in Belgium is closed in January. We took a train to Ghent in order the see the Ghent Altarpiece, in January, because I had long harbored a desire to see for myself, in real time and space, the weird expressions of the singing angels. And of course, St Ursula. I always want to see St Ursula. St Bavo’s cathedral was closed that day in Ghent in January. The chapel with the altarpiece would remain closed for the month. You can only console yourself with moules frites so many times. Thus, I have a large book with many details of the altarpiece. Until my mother’s revelations by the fireside, I was unaware of the frequent references to tonsures. Or maybe it was one reference to one tonsure, encountered again and again.

So, in lieu of more drastic measures, I decided it was time to reorganize and re-alphabetize my books. Not all my books, just what I think of as the indispensable ones; only fiction and what was formerly called ‘belles lettres’ and might now be called ‘creative nonfiction’ gets alphabetized. Other books are organized by topic, and that is not a simple thing. Should a biography of Gertrude Bell be placed with books of travel and exploration (in the downstairs guest room), or in the biography section (in the second floor hall)? Likewise, where would a Life of Saint Teresa of Avila belong: in the aforementioned biography section, or in the hagiography department?
As for the hagiography, for quite a while, a few years past, as CSB will bemoan with bewilderment, hagiography was my chief subject of research. My collection of the lives of female saints, with special attention to mystics of the middle ages, is, I am sure, the largest in Hastings if not the whole county. Yet even that designation presents its categorical difficulties: should the life of Lydwin of Schiedam be placed with the mystics or the sainted anorexics? Likewise, there is significant crossover between the stigmatics and the mystics.
I could go on. But CSB will be pleased that I do not.
As soon as I started, with the A’s, I was hurtled back in time, with Walter Abish, who actually wrote a blurb for my first novel, Expecting, back when I very likely had no idea of the importance and trafficking of blurbs in the world of bookselling. New Directions published the book. They also published Walter Abish’s books, and so, without any more ado, I found his blurb on the back of my novel. I recommend his Alphabetical Africa.
One of the ways I console myself for the inevitable is knowing that when the time comes, I will be able to figure out what writers I have loved, craved, read and admired profligately; all I will have to do is look at my bookshelves. Calculate the linear shelf inches.
You would be correct to assume that I love the writing of Paul Auster; the evidence is right there, between Austen and Azuela.
Thomas Bernhardt gets maximum linear inches in the B’s. I was introduced to Bernhardt by Bine Köhler, from whom I learned so much about European writers, looking at art, listening to music and how to live. I also learned about egg hats in a Berlin pensione. I had been reading his books for decades before I finally went to Vienna with Bine last winter, and saw firsthand the country so reviled by its greatest writer. I, of course, loved Vienna and could easily have spent the rest of my life lurking at the Café Grindl.
Almost as much space is devoted to Ludwig Bemelmans: such is the democracy of my bookshelves. Who does not adore Madeleine who lives in an old house in Paris? But her books are upstairs in the children’s bookcase. Down here we have his so-called adult books, Hotel Splendide, Dirty Eddie and How to Travel Incognito.
There are more books here by Louis Bromfield than is reasonable, and some will be purged. But I will keep The Rains Came, a torrid page-turner set during a monsoon in Ranchipur, India. Along with James Hilton’s Lost Horizon it was a favorite book of my late father-in-law. We knew they were his favorite books because he spoke of them often; they were in fact the only books he ever mentioned. I always assumed they were connected to his war experience in India, but is that true? Were Americans even in India during the war?

Before departing the B’s, there is William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, the book I read when I was 19 at the behest of Jeff, my boyfriend, later husband. He gave it to me in order to combat my bourgeois tendencies. I was shocked, as presumably was intended, and confused. After Jeff died more than five years ago, I reread Naked Lunch and finally, at last, appreciated its brilliance. But was it too late?

Every letter has its triggers and madeleines. There are so many more to come. Let’s just say that the other day, while I was blissfully shelving my books, a certain brainy friend was visiting and I asked him and CSB to name women writers whose surnames begin with W.* Our brainy friend (he knows who he is) dredged up (barely) Edith Wharton. CSB, bless his heart, mentioned “that writer whose house we visited.” Bingo: yes, we visited Eudora Welty’s house in Jackson Mississippi on Nothing in Common goes South Road Trip #1. There was a sign on the door requesting that no guns be carried inside. Upstairs, and all over the house, visitors could still see Welty’s piles of books, not only on her shelves, but upon beds and chairs. I could have moved in. Without my gun.

*In my collection alone: Walbert, Walker, Weber, White, Williams, Winterson, Wesley, Weldon, Wolf, Woolf, Wroe. It may be - thus far - the only letter of the alphabet for which I have more novels by women than men. Actually, no. I think O is another one. I will check, count, and measure.